Mental health campaigners have criticised new Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) guidance, which could make it more difficult for women to claim sickness benefits than men.
New guidance issued by the DWP to healthcare professionals assessing people for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), suggests that men and women should be tested differently.
A man who has been diagnosed with mental health problems and in danger of self-harm or suicide may be assessed as having limited capability for work. Whereas a women in the same position could be asked to show additional ‘personal factors’, such as a family history of suicide, in order to receive ESA.
The Government says the advice has been issued because suicide is “more prevalent among men than women”.
However, campaigners say the new guidance is over-simplistic and added that the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) has already been heavily criticised over fairness and accuracy.
Carolyn Roberts from the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) warned that the changes were “potentially harmful” and urged the DWP to withdraw the advice.
“The Work Capability Assessment has already been heavily criticised for not being able to accurately assess mental health problems, with independent reviews recommending its assessors should have more experience in mental health”, she said.
“And while it is undoubtedly true that more men lose their lives to suicide than women, this looks like the addition of a blunt and unsophisticated method of assessment to a system that is already failing people with mental health problems. SAMH calls on the DWP to withdraw these new rules.”
Tom Pollard, policy and campaigns manager at mental health charity Mind, said the charity is “seeking further clarification from the DWP on the reasoning behind this decision, which massively oversimplifies the issues around suicidal thoughts, feelings and actions”.
He added: “Although men account for around three-quarters of all suicides, this doesn’t tell the whole story as attempted suicides are not taken into account.
“There is still a huge lack of understanding within the welfare system around mental health and we want to see greater expertise on mental health and the impact it can have on somebody’s ability to work.”
The DWP said the guidance is included in a handbook given to health professionals who assess sick and disabled people for ESA and should not be regarded as “hard and fast rules”.
They added: “In the subject areas covered by the guidance there are some differences between men and women – for example, men have higher suicide rates than women – and the way the guidance is written is designed to take that into account.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 06 Apr 2015
Figures released today by the Office for National Statistics show that suicide rates, which had fallen consistently since 1981, have been climbing since 2007 and are now at their highest in over a decade. It is primarily male suicides which have increased.
The figures for 2013 give a total of 6,233 deaths by suicide, 252 more than in 2012.
Suicide rates appear to be highest in areas of high unemployment, with the North-East having the highest rate and London the lowest.
Older males are now the most at risk, with 45-59 year olds having the highest rate.
The link between benefits issues and increased suicide risk is being highlighted by charities such as Mind.
Speaking to the Guardian, Tom Pollard, policy and campaigns manager at Mind, said:
“Pressurising people by threatening to stop their benefits causes a great deal of financial problems and emotional distress, with some people attempting to take their own lives as a result.”
“While the right type of employment can be beneficial to wellbeing, the support offered to those on mandatory back-to-work schemes such as the Work Programme is far too generic to effectively help people with mental health problems move towards employment. We need to see an overhaul of the system with more tailored specialised support and less focus on sanctioning.”
Source – Benefits & Work, 19 Feb 2015
The coalition government’s controversial Work Programme, dubbed ‘workfare’ by opponents, has been slammed by a leading charity for worsening the health of unemployed people with mental health problems.
Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) reveal how less than 8% of sick and disabled people claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) find work through the Work Programme.
Mental health charity MIND said the figures provide “further evidence that the overwhelming majority of people with disabilities and mental health problems are not being helped by the Government’s flagship back-to-work support scheme”.
Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind, added:
“A recent report from Mind found that people with mental health problems are less likely to be supported into employment through the Work Programme than those with other health conditions and are more likely to have their benefits sanctioned”.
According to the survey 83% of people who lost their jobs due to mental health problems got worse while on the government’s flagship back to work scheme.
The survey also revealed how 76% felt less able to work, while nearly one in four (24%) were hospitalised or sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of MIND, said: “If someone is depressed and out of work a CV course won’t help.”
Tom Pollard added: “Mind is calling for everyone with a mental health problem who is receiving mainstream support through this scheme to be placed onto a new scheme and offered more personalised, specialist support which acknowledges and addresses the challenges people face in getting and keeping a job.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 21 Dec 2014
This article was written by Karen McVeigh, for The Guardian on Sunday 14th December 2014
The Department for Work and Pensions has been urged by mental health and disability charities to publish its secret investigations into suicides that may have some link to benefit changes, following revelations that it has carried out internal reviews into 60 such cases.
A Freedom of Information request by the Disability News Service has revealed that the DWP has carried out “60 peer reviews following the death of a customer” since February 2012. A peer review is triggered when suicide or alleged suicide is “associated with a DWP activity”, according to its internal guidance.
Despite growing concern over the way benefits are administered in relation to vulnerable individuals, and amid a number of reports of related deaths, the department told the Guardian it had no plans to publish the reviews.
Disabled People Against the Cuts said that, because of the way the reviews were carried out, the DWP figure was likely to be the “tip of the iceberg”.
Tom Pollard, the policy and campaigns manager at Mind, told the Guardian the figures were a concern. He stressed that suicide was a complex problem but added:
“It would be helpful for organisations to see what things could be going wrong in the benefit system that could lead to these tragic situations.”
Sue Bott, director of policy and services at Disability Rights UK, said DWP reviews should be transparent.
“There have been allegations and anecdotal evidence for a while that the benefits regime has tipped people over the edge. It should be looked into in a transparent way,”
“This is not just about the nature of the decision taken as to whether it was right or wrong. It’s also about the process and there is a lot of concern about the way benefits are administered.”
The DWP’s latest figures show that sanctions to punish disabled ESA claimants had risen by 470% in 18 months, from 1,096 in December 2012 to 5,132 in June 2014.
According to DWP figures released as the result of an FoI request, 62% of adverse ESA sanction decisions in the first three months of 2014 were made against people with mental or behavioural problems (9,851 out of 15,955).
The calls for transparency from the DWP come after a number of reports of the deaths and suicides of vulnerable individuals after adverse benefit decisions.
David Clapson, 59, a former soldier and type-1 diabetic, died in July after his benefit was cut. Clapson had no food in his stomach, £3.44 in the bank and no money on his electricity card, leaving him unable to operate his fridge where he kept insulin.
MPs are to look into his death after a petition written by Gill Thompson, his sister, gathered more than 200,000 signatures.
Thompson, told the Guardian:
“All I’ve ever asked for is lessons to be learned. I can’t bring him back but we should know what is going on. There are certain people who shouldn’t be sanctioned. People with terminal cancer, waiting for heart operations, people with diabetes. Before they sanctioned my brother, they knew his disability. He was waiting to hear from a job, he had been on work placement. He was claiming the bare minimum.”
Christine Norman, a nurse whose disabled sister, Jacqueline Harris, took her own life in November 2013 after her benefits were cut, said:
“It’s too late for my sister. Everything is stacked against you. If you’ve got a great education, if you have great health, you’re OK. But if you haven’t, you have to fight against the odds. The government want you to work. The ones they pick are the ones that are vulnerable and ill.”
An inquest found last month that Harris, 53, of Bristol, who was partially sighted, took her own life after months of constant pain and following a “fit for work” ruling that replaced her incapacity benefit with jobseeker’s allowance. Staff at a jobcentre Harris was told to attend had to call an ambulance after she blacked out in pain.
Disabled People Against Cuts said that, because the DWP’s reviews only relate to suicides or alleged suicides and were triggered by regional managers within the benefit system, the number of deaths was likely to be far higher than the 60 cases that reached review.
Anita Bellows, of Disabled People Against Cuts, said:
“The triage for advising whether a peer review is to be carried out is done by regional managers at seven regional centres, who may not have an interest in putting them forward. Also, the guidance for peer review is focused on suicide, which does not cover people like David Clapson.”
She called on the DWP to open a proper investigation into the deaths, and include evidence from medical experts.
“These should be public documents” she said. “They are also only focused on the process. There are no medical experts on it.”
The DWP said it was unable to disclose the names of individuals under review because of provisions of the Social Security Administration Act.
However, the Mental Welfare Commission of Scotland, a Scottish government-funded watchdog, published its comprehensive review of the suicide of a claimant known only as Ms DE this year. The MWCS concluded that the WCA process and the subsequent denial of ESA was at least a “major factor in her decision to take her own life”. It concluded that the work capability assessment process was flawed and needed to be more sensitive to mental health issues.
Colin McKay, chief executive of the Mental Welfare Commission of Scotland, said he was disappointed with the DWP response to the report on Ms DE, who died on 31 December 2011.
“Certainly, nothing in what they said gave us confidence that if another Ms DE was claiming benefit, the outcome would be any different,” he said. “If the number of deaths are 60, that’s a lot. You would expect any organisation experiencing deaths as the potential consequences of their actions would be seriously considering whether they needed to do anything differently.”
This year a whistleblower tasked with getting claimants out of the ESA sickness benefit told the Guardian that some of her clients were homeless, many had extreme mental health problems – including paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and autism – and some were “starving” and extremely depressed after having benefits stopped. “Almost every day one of my clients mentioned feelings of suicide to me” she said.
Mind released research on Thursday that found that people with mental illness were having their benefit cut more than those with other illnesses. It also found 83% of those with mental health problems surveyed said their self-esteem had worsened, and 76% said they felt less able to work as a result of DWP back-to-work schemes.
The DWP said: “We take these matters extremely seriously, which is why we carry out peer reviews in certain cases to establish whether anything should have been done differently. However, a peer review in itself does not automatically mean the department was at fault.
“Since its introduction in 2008 there have been four independent reviews of the work capability assessment and we have made significant improvements to make it better, fairer and more accurate.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 14 Dec 201
More than 60% of adverse Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) sanctions decisions made during the first three months of 2014 were against people with mental health issues or behavioral problems, new figures show.
Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in response to a Freedom of Information Request, show that 9,851 adverse benefit sanctions decisions were made against ESA claimants with mental or behavioural disorders between January to March 2014.
This compares to:
- 508 adverse sanctions decisions against ESA claimants with diseases of the circulatory or respiratory system.
- 1,598 against those with diseases of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissue.
- 571 against people with diseases of the nervous system.
- 714 against people with injuries, poisoning and certain other consequences of external causes.
- 2,727 against those with other health conditions or disabilities.
A DWP official said benefit sanctions are used to encourage people to “engage with the support being offered by Jobcentres, by making it clearer to claimants what they are expected to do in return for their benefits”.
However, charities and medical experts say people with mental health issues, learning problems and behavioral disorders often struggle to understand what is required of them in return for their benefits. Following strict requirements can prove to be more difficult for these groups of people, without additional support and guidance.
Commenting on similar figures from November 2013, Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at the mental health charity Mind, said:
“We’re very concerned that an increasing number of people on ESA are having their benefits stopped, despite the fact that there are now fewer people in the WRAG (Work Related Activity Group).
“We know that around half of people in the WRAG need support because they have mental health problems, but over 60 per cent of sanctions are imposed on this group.”
“It is unjustifiable that people with mental health problems are being disproportionately affected by this increasingly punitive system. This confirms our fears that people are being pressured to undertake activities that are inappropriate for them and are not having their mental health properly taken into account.”
“As a result people often become more anxious and unwell and this makes a return to work less likely. We urgently need to see people with mental health problems placed on a scheme which recognises and helps them overcome the challenges they face in finding and keeping a job.”
In total, there were 15,995 adverse ESA sanctions decisions between January to March 2014.
A cross-party report published earlier this week said the harsh use of punitive benefit sanctions is leading to rising numbers of people turning to food banks.
Commenting in response to the report, Salman Shaheen of Left Unity said:
“Sanctions mean that tiny mistakes can see people’s benefits stopped. Often people are given unclear instructions. Sometimes the rules suddenly change or appointments are moved. One slip-up and they join the ranks of the hungry.
“Every crackdown on benefits pushes more people into the food bank queues. Abolishing sanctions is the simple answer: no one should ever be left with no income to live on.
“We also need to raise benefits from their current poverty level. And it is vital to tackle in-work poverty by ending zero-hours contracts and raising the minimum wage to £10 an hour.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 10 Dec 2014
Hundreds of thousands of employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants face being stripped of their benefits if they refuse to undergo treatment for anxiety and depression, under radical plans being proposed by ministers.
Existing welfare rules mean it is not possible to require claimants to have treatment, such as therapy or counselling, as a condition of receiving ESA. However, it has emerged that the roll-out of further mandatory pilot schemes are planned over the next few weeks.
One trial began last month, looking at combining “talking therapies” with employment support. Three further trials being launched this summer are intended to test different ways of linking mental health services with support for benefit claimants seeking work:
- Using group work “to build self-efficacy and resilience to setbacks” faced by job seekers
- Providing access to online mental health and work assessment and support
- Third parties, commissioned by Jobcentre Plus, to provide telephone-based psychological and employment-related support
The aim is to get people with mental health problems off benefits and back into work, so saving the government crucial spending on the welfare bill.
The proposal will, however, raise ethical questions about whether the state should have the power to force patients to undergo treatment. According to the statistics, 46% of ESA claimants have mental health problems.
The Telegraph claims a senior government source told them:
“We know that depression and anxiety are treatable conditions. Cognitive behavioural therapies work and they get people stable again but you can’t mandate people to take that treatment.
“But there are loads of people who claim ESA who undergo no treatment whatsoever. It is bizarre. This is a real problem because we want people to get better.
“These are areas we need to explore. The taxpayer has committed a lot of money but the idea was never to sustain them for years and years on benefit. We think it’s time for a rethink.”
Tom Pollard, policy and campaigns manager at Mind, the mental health charity, said:
“If people are not getting access to the support they need, the government should address levels of funding for mental health services rather than putting even more pressure on those supported by benefits and not currently well enough to work.
“Talking therapies can be effective, but it is often a combination of treatments which allow people to best manage their symptoms and engaging in therapy should be voluntary.”
Norman Lamb, the Lib Dem health minister, said mandating mental health treatment for benefit claimants would not work and was “not a sensible idea”.
“The idea that you frogmarch someone into therapy with the threat of a loss of benefits simply won’t work,” he said. “It is not a question of whether tough love is a good concept.
“You actually need someone to go into therapy willingly.”
Read the full story in The Telegraph
Source – Benefits & Work, 14 July 2014
A shocking report launched today (Thursday 12 June) has found that the back to work support provided through the Work Programme and Jobcentre Plus is causing severe anxiety for people with disabilities and pushing them further from the job market.
‘Fulfilling Potential? ESA and the fate of the Work Related Activity Group’ is based on data from over 500 people with a range of physical and mental health problems.
All respondents had been assigned to the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) having applied for the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
People in the WRAG can have their benefits stopped if they do not engage with work preparation schemes.
This research found that the Work Programme or Jobcentre Plus had helped just 5% of respondents move into work, while 60% of people said that their health, finances, confidence and sense of purpose had all suffered as a result.
Most people who responded to the survey had been compelled to undertake compulsory back-to-work activities or have their benefits cut.
The majority said their disabilities were not acknowledged or accommodated and made engaging in such activities difficult.
80% of people said they felt anxious about not being able to access activities and 70% were worried about their benefits being cut.
The actual or threatened cutting of benefits is meant to motivate people to get back to work, but the report suggests motivation is not a problem.
For most people (90%), their health or impairment was the main barrier to work.
The report was produced by Catherine Hale, a Work Programme service user, with support from the mental health charity Mind and the Centre for Welfare Reform.
Catherine currently claims ESA due to myalgic encephalopathy (ME), a long term health condition, and said:
“The majority of disabled people want to work. However, people who have been awarded ESA have genuine and often severe health problems which make it difficult to access employment.
“The current system ignores these difficulties, and relies on the threat of sanctions to get people into work.
“It is no surprise that it is not only failing disabled people but causing additional distress and anxiety, on top of the barriers that they already face.
“People claiming ESA need to be placed with specialist organisations experienced in supporting disabled people into employment, not into mainstream welfare-to-work schemes.”
Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind, commented:
“This report adds to the existing evidence that the current benefits system is failing people with disabilities and mental health problems.
“There is far too much focus on pressuring people into undertaking compulsory activities, and not nearly enough ongoing, tailored support to help them into an appropriate job.
“We urgently need to see an overhaul of this system.”
The report has been endorsed by a further 18 organisations including Mencap, RNIB, Parkinson’s UK and the National Autistic Society.
Read Catherine Hale’s report here
Mind is promoting a campaign in support of changes to the current system, which you can read about and sign up to here
Source – Benefits & Work, 12 June 2014